nytheatre.com review by Mark DeFrancis
June 8, 2008
Hope's Arbor is a piece which takes on as many subjects as it possibly can in an effort to immerse its audience in the overwhelming world of a college-bound teen. The show examines sex, race, divorce, lifestyle, religion, body image, college, parenting, cell phones, the Internet, careers, and suicide—to name a few. If Hamlet wants drama to hold the mirror up to nature, then this play has got it covered. At times it feels as if the play has bitten off more than it can chew by sporadically jumping from one subject to the next while ignoring the thrust of the story. However, by the play's end we see that this complex world requires us to deal with all of these forces and more in order to define ourselves.
Hope, played by Lauren Marcus, is seemingly the only sane person in a crazy world. Surrounded by her obsessive mother, disinterested father, and vicious jocks, she retreats to the Internet where she has created a fake persona to account for her insecurities. Here she finds other confused youths who are struggling with their own problems of acceptance. Desperate to escape her mother's constant pressure she runs away with her Internet friend and drags all her friends and foes into her struggle to answer the burning questions of who she is and what she wants.
Marcus is a pleasure to watch. She brings a likeable glow to Hope and illustrates both her insecurities and strengths with ease. Also notable are the performances by Justine Campbell-Elliott as Hope's mother and Jessica Ko as Saiko, one of Hope's internet relations.
Playwright Rich Espey's work is intricate and provocative. Despite that, the play is sadly populated with stereotypes of all kinds, which serves to set Hope apart but compromises the story. Still, Hope's Arbor flickers with moments of both great writing and performing and, most importantly, has a great ending. This frenetic show somehow manages to pull so many subjects together into a cohesive statement, which is well worth the wait.